Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s dream run at the BNP Paribas Open, a Masters 1000 event might have come to a halt with a 3-6 6(3)-7 loss to the giant Ivo Karlovic but the top-ranked Indian leaves the Californian desert with the most memorable moments to cherish forever. The loss surely hurts, but the towering left-hander has imbibed lessons which certainly will see him going the distance in the season ahead.
“Tough match, I needed to be better in returning his serve and when I did have some chances I did not play well enough. I played one loose service game in the first set and in the second set I did not put much pressure. In the tie breaker too I did not play good enough on my service points and that cost me the match. I did not play well in those moments when it counted,” a weary Prajnesh tells The Bridge when I asked him to give us an insight on his third round loss today.
The Indian Wells although, will forever be a beautiful experience to remember for Gunneswaran where he got the opportunity to prove that he has the ability to tackle the best in business, yes only the best get to play at the Masters.
Playing in his maiden Masters event, the dream debut was worth a fairy tale run that took the Chennai star from qualifying to the third round, enroute which, he got the biggest win of his career when he upset World no 18 Nikoloz Basilashvilli in the second round.
A ferocious forehand and huge serves, signature of the southpaw from Chennai, have been instrumental in his miraculous progress on the Tour.
Prajnesh came through two qualifying matches and instantly made an impression in the opening round when he beat the mercurial Benoit Paire, a former top 20 player who is known to have the weaponry to rattle the stalwarts of the business.
Prajnesh who had qualified for his maiden ATP 250 last year at the Mercedes cup in Stuttgart beat the then Word No 23 Denis Shapovalov.
“It definitely helps a lot, gives me a lot of confidence knowing I can beat the best in the world”, said a beaming Prajnesh
Having such huge wins to his resume, the World No 97, who is now expected to touch 82 in the new rankings is making a statement that he is here to stay.
“It is indeed a very big deal winning two matches in the Main draw of the Masters, I am pretty happy. I have been playing well throughout this season and at the end of the last year as well. It has definitely assured me that I can play at this level” Gunneswaran reflects on his brilliant run so far this season.
He had begun the season on a high when he qualified for his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open where he went down to the American Frances Tiafoe in the first round.
From thereon, Gunneswaran showed marked consistency by reaching the semi-finals of both the Challengers in Chennai and Bangkok before his scintillating run at Indian Wells.
Always being prepared for such high octane tennis can be a very big challenge for athletes. But Prajnesh who has endured his share of career threatening injuries does not believe in looking back.
A beacon of grit and determination, Gunneswaran feels that every match matters. “I try to get ready for each of the matches both physically and mentally, because I know every match you have to be 100% ready even mentally and be ready to fight. I just try to get into the right frame of mind.” Prajnesh tells The Bridge when asked for a sneak peek into his pre-match routines.
The treacherous ATP voyage is no cakewalk but the India No 1 knows his goal and is all determined to achieve the same. He says,”My goal is to crack the top-50 by the end of this year. Let us see if that happens.” Prajnesh signs off with an aura of optimism that fills the hearts of Indian tennis fans with hope.
Last year it was Yuki Bhambri who reached the third round at Indian Wells and also the second round at the Miami Masters. This year Prajnesh who will now be heading for the Miami Masters qualifying is all charged up to keep the Indian flag flying high on the Tour.